Daily Times: Sunday, January 21, 2007

Lahore Lahore Aye: This vanished city of religious amity

By A Hamid

While there were some Lahore Muslims in the old days, all men of means, who were involved in works of charity, Lahore’s non-Muslim philanthropists were always in the lead in this area. Three living reminders of their generosity and spirit of public service are the Ganga Ram Hospital on Queens Road, the Gulab Devi Hospital in Kot Lakhpat and the Janki Devi Hospital on Abbot Road. It was also the Hindus of the city who set up a hospital for the treatment of sick animals. All the water troughs where thirsty animals could drink were built by Jains. There was hardly a man of fortune in the Hindu community who did not spend part of his wealth on charitable deeds, regardless of the religion of the beneficiaries.

Hakim Ahmed Shuja writes in his book Lahore’s Chelsea that in Tehsil Bazaar, there lived Dr Hira Lal, one of the city’s most eminent surgeons, who treated his patients as human beings not Hindus or Muslims. The celebrated Muslim surgeon, Dr Amiruddin, also belonged to the same tradition. He would not charge patients who could not pay and he would help them with money if he felt they needed it.

Besides Dr Hira Lal, Lahore’s well-known Hindu doctors included Dr Nihal Chand, Dr Beli Ram and Dr Daulat Ram. Two Muslim doctors, Dr Muhammad Hussain and Dr Rahim Khan were also well regarded. Dr Daulat Ram, whose clinic stood across the road from Dr Hira Lal’s, was an ophthalmologist who also had a clinic on Nicholson Road where he went in the later part of the day. He never charged anyone who did not have the means to pay. While he would charge his Hindu patients, he would treat even well-off Muslims without a fee. When asked why, he would say, “Even a rich Muslim is poor while a poor Hindu is rich. In any case, I make enough from my Hindu patients to meet my needs.”

Hakim Nayyar Wasti was the same way. I not only knew him but remained in his care more than once. His consulting rooms in Masti Gate were always full of patients, many of whom had come from far off places. He would charge his affluent patients, who included businessmen and feudals, substantial fees but he would treat the poor free. He would also give them medicines without charging them a penny. He would put a certain sign in a corner of the prescription he wrote, an indication to his staff that the patient was not to be charged either for the consultation or for the medicine. He later built a double-storey house in front of his old Masti Gate residence. It also had a store where allopathic medicines could be had. The poor were not charged for those either.

Not far from Tehsil Bazaar was the Syed Mitha Bazaar where lived Rai Sahib Lala Madan Gopal and Pandit Parbhot Shastri. Pandit Shastri was a distinguished Sanskrit scholar and held a doctorate in philosophy from a German university. He was appointed principal of Oriental College in 1922. Rai Madan Gopal once taught English at Central Model School and always went out of his way to help weak students with extra instruction. As for Dr Kirpa Ram, he set up the largest prescription glass factory in Lahore. He was a generous man and gave out free glasses to those who could not pay for them.

Not far from Shish Mahal was Rai Bahadur Mela Ram’s haveli called Lal Kothi, of which nothing is left today. It was among the best-known buildings in Bhati Gate. The Rai Bahadur was a devotee of Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh. When his son Ram Saran Das fell seriously ill, he went to the shrine, stood at the steps that lead to the mausoleum and promised the saint that if his son was cured, he would bathe the shrine with milk and set up a free food centre in the name of Lahore’s patron saint. The boy was cured and the Rai Bahadur kept his word. His son also became a great devotee of the saint. These men were the epitome of old world graces. They also respected people of learning, though they may not have had much formal education themselves. On the occasion of the annual feast of Data Sahib, Rai Bahadur Mela Ram would offer free food for three days running to the Data’s devotees. Parties of qawwals would perform under colourful canopies raised in honour of the saint by the Rai Bahadur on the lawn of his Lal Kothi.

It was Hakim Ahmed Shuja who noted that in 1880 when the Lahore railway station was built and the Lahore-Amritsar train service was inaugurated, most of the construction work was done by Mian Sultan of Landa Bazaar, Mian Muhammad Baksh Dalgar of Mochi Gate and Rai Bahadur Mela Ram. As long as the Rai Bahadur and his son lived, they always organised grand celebrations on the occasion of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim festivals on the lawn of Lal Kothi. In front of Lal Kothi was a tiny street or koocha called Moti Tibba where Sir Abdul Qadir once lived. A small street that led out of Moti Tibba was known as Pir Bholay di Gali where lived Dr Allah Din, one of the first in Lahore to make his mark as a paediatrician. The neighbouring Bazaar Jogi Mohalla was the home of Miran Baksh, barrister-at-law. He had begun his law practice by joining the chamber of two British lawyers of Lahore, Mr Rattigan and Mr Reynolds. The latter was the son of the novelist George WM Reynolds, who was widely read once but is now forgotten. He was the author of the Mysteries of the Court of London.

According to author and old Lahoria, Gopal Mittal, Prof Brij Narain, who was his teacher, lived in Raj Garh, behind Chauburji (as did Kamni Kaushal, whose father Prof Kaishap taught at Government College. She graduated form Kinnaird and her maiden name was Uma Kaishap). Prof Narain was an economist. He believed that if Pakistan came into being, it would be economically viable. He did not leave at partition but died soon thereafter. Another greatly respected Lahore Hindu was Pandit Raghubir Prashad, a cloth merchant of Gumti Bazaar, who paid stipends to a large number of widows and orphans, regardless of their religion. His munim or cashier was under an oath of secrecy never to reveal their names. When he became old, he handed over all his wealth and possessions to his sons and went to Benaras where, like a devout Jain, he sat on the banks of the sacred river, vowing to eat or drink nothing and let death take him away. And that was the way he died.

Until some years prior to partition, the Muslims and Hindus of Lahore lived in great amity and often celebrated their religious festivals together. When the annual Muharram procession would pass through Hindu localities, the residents would stand on their balconies or rooftops and sprinkle rose water over the solemn mourners. Devout Hindus on their morning walk and ashnan or ritual bathing in the Ravi would feed birds and insects with rice because they believed all life, no matter how humble, was sacred.

Which is what makes the bloodbath that preceded and accompanied independence incomprehensible.

A Hamid, the distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan

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